ST. THOMAS Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr., led the 35th Legislature’s members as they convened in the Committee of the Whole at the Capitol Building. Legislators received testimony from a bill that authorizes five group health insurance contract renewals that expire on September 30, 2023, and one contract renewal that expires on December 31, 2023. Invited testifiers were officials from the Government Employees Services Board, the Virgin Islands Division of Personnel, Group Health Insurance, the Division of Personnel, and CIGNA Representatives.
Healthcare agreements, according to Senator Francis, are still in the works. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Board made tremendous progress without incurring additional costs for the Government of the Virgin Islands or government employees. We like the enhancement and member advantages. However, there needs to be a closer look at the $500 deductible for retirees moving forward.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The measure was proposed by Senator Novelle E. Francis by the request of the Governor: Bill No. 35-0140 – An Act approving the Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company for Group Medical Health Insurance; the Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company for Group Dental Insurance; the Agreement for Group Medical Health Insurance between the Government of the Virgin Islands and United Healthcare Insurance Company; the Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Standard Insurance Company for Group Vision Insurance; the Agreement for Group Life and Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Standard Insurance Company; and the Agreement for Voluntary (Employee-Paid) Critical Illness, Accidental Injury and Hospital Care Insurance between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company of North America.
Beverly Joseph, Chairperson of the GESC Health Insurance Board of Trustees and the elected representative on behalf of active employees in St. Croix, urged lawmakers to approve all contracts because these are the best terms of negotiation. For FY 2024, there is a reduction of the overall costs for medical, dental, vision, and life insurance coverages for active employees, retirees, and the Government of the Virgin Islands. Compared to FY 2023 of $183.1 million in combined insurance coverage plans, there is a $403,000 decrease for FY 2024 totaling $182.7 million. Regarding CIGNA Healthcare, the existing premiums, services, benefits, and cost-sharing for employees and retirees are unchanged. Presently, employees pay 27% of the cost share, while the government pays 73%. However, if the Senate does not intervene, then it can revert to 65% for GVI and 35% for employees. Senator Alma Francis inquired about the expense associated with each employee in the event it was to occur. In response, Joseph indicated that it would be $100 more per employee.
Additionally, CIGNA will continue to sponsor two nursing scholarships at the University of the Virgin Islands, as well as programs such as Omada’s Pre-Diabetes Prevention Program and MotivateMe, in addition to providing two full-time on-site Customer Service Representatives. In lieu of the preventative programs, Senator Francis inquired if there was a decline in chronic diseases in the Territory. In response, Joseph stated that there is a rise in chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stage 4 cancers in the community. Michael Howell, MD, Regional Medical Executive at CIGNA Healthcare, stated that there is also a decline in annual physicals, cancer screenings, and diabetic preventative screenings in the Virgin Islands.
GESC Chair Joseph also addressed concerns regarding post-65 retirees and stated that the boardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s negotiations with United Healthcare would eliminate a fiscal impact on both the government and retirees’ salaries. GESC recommends adding a $500 deductible, which is the same deductible amount as the pre-65 retiree plan, to achieve no increase in rates, according to Joseph.
Senators present at the Committee of the Whole were Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Carla J. Joseph, Kenneth L. Gittens, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Diane T. Capehart, Ray Fonseca, Alma Francis Heyliger, Marise C. James, Franklin D. Johnson, Milton E. Potter, and Javan E. James, Sr. Senators Ã‚Â Samuel CarriÃƒÂ³n, and Angel L. Bolques, Jr., were excused.
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